Thursday, April 11, 2019

Jack of All Fates, Master of None: Mr. Nobody Ten Years On

Jared Leto and Diane Kruger in Jaco van Dormael’s Mr. Nobody (2009).

There’s nothing in the world more terrifying than a restaurant menu. I stick to a handful of oft-frequented establishments precisely to avoid the vertigo of too many options. It’s not that I’m afraid of ordering the wrong thing – just the opposite: Everything looks so equally good that I can’t pin down a standard against which to differentiate them. I often joke to new friends sitting across the table in exasperation that menus open up an existential abyss within me, forcing me to reconsider the very ideas of “choice” and “value.” I used to think that knowing what every dish tasted like would help me make a decision. Then I saw Jaco van Dormael’s Mr. Nobody, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival to a ten-minute standing ovation a decade ago this September.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Mustang: Soothing the Savage Spirit

Matthias Schoenaerts in The Mustang.

The first images of The Mustang, of a herd of wild mustangs racing vainly across a western expanse while choppers buzzing overhead round them up and vans cut off their escape route, is reminiscent of scenes from the great 1953 Albert Lamorisse short White Mane. It’s a hell of an opening: majestic and unsettling in equal parts. And it lays the groundwork for the story, which juxtaposes one of these magnificent wild creatures, a restless, apparently unbreakable horse named Marquis (pronounced “Marcus”), with a violent criminal named Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts, Gabriel Oak in the 2015 remake of Far from the Madding Crowd) who’s just been released into the general prison population at the Northern Nevada Correctional Institute after years in solitary. In his session with the prison psychologist (Connie Britton), Roman refuses to answer her questions; he looks like he’s about to implode, and he very nearly does – though she’s a veteran, firm and fearless, so his resistance to her doesn’t impress her. (Britton only has two scenes in the movie, but she makes the most of them.) Finally he gets out “I’m not good with people,” so she assigns him to outdoor work. Where he ends up is the Wild Horse Inmate Program, whose director, Myles (Bruce Dern), with the help of an inmate handler named Henry (Jason Mitchell), teaches prisoners to tame mustangs so they’re fit to be auctioned off for a variety of purposes, including border patrol. The Mustang is about how Roman and Marquis, in effect, tame each other – after a very shaky start. Roman gets so exasperated with the horse’s reluctance to let himself be subdued that, in an astounding scene, he beats him with his fists until Myles has him dragged off. Myles, not surprisingly, proclaims that he never wants to see this inmate again, but Roman manages to redeem himself in an emergency and is re-enlisted in the program.